Pilot at the Movies

Thursday, January 31, 2008

'Juno'a smart and unusual dramady

"... We sure are cute for two ugly people..."

"Juno" is a young, stylishly quirky coming-of-age film that has enough realistic emotion to touch a soft spot in movie-goers of all ages.

Accomplished 20-year-old Canadian actress Ellen Page plays Juno MacGuff, as an offbeat high school girl who is faced with an unplanned pregnancy with her platonic buddy Paulie, played by Michael Cera. (They sing the ideal lyric above at one point.)

Juno decides against aborting the child, and sets out to find appropriate adoptive parents for her unborn child, which brings her into the lives of a seemingly perfect couple. Mark and Vanessa, played by Jason Bateman (who also directs) and Jennifer Garner seem too good to be true - they are.

The cast is excellent here, and the viewer gets caught up in the story quickly.

The shy and uncertain boy seems to see the pregnancy as almost a surreal experience, as lost about what to do as you might imagine such a person to be. Page is utterly believeable as the headstrong and smart-allecky girl, acting tough but underneath a bit of a mess about the decisions she must make.

Garner is good as the obsessive woman who longs to adopt a child, and Bateman steals the show in the strange role of her husband, increasingly childish himself and with just this uncomfortable underlayer of something not quite right - you worry that Juno is going to fall into his clutches.

I had feared that this would be a kind of dark and depressing movie, a two hour "scared straight" commercial for celebacy.

While there are emotional scenes that might get to you, overall the movie is unexpectedly upbeat as a young girl learns to deal with the realities of pregnancy much too soon, and there are many smiles as well as her well-meaning family and friends struggles to accept, then make the best of the situation.

"Juno" is a lot more real that, say, "Knocked Up," and thankfully, it is a lot more tasteful than most of the comedic drama (dramedy?) out there that relies on nudity, shock and endless streams of f-bombs.

Some people will be angry that it isn't more preachy against premarital sex, divorce, abortion or giving babies up for adoption, but that isn't really what it is about. At the heart of it, it is a simple film about having hope that something good can come out of a seemingly impossible situation.

The "Juno" character - smart and blustery, a real-looking kid and not one of those teenybop supermodels - is one of the most likeable to be seen on the screen since Napoleon Dynamite.

From the opening credits, which wobble back and forth from live small-town footage to artistic renderings of the town as June moves briskly along, it is clear that this movie sets out to be something more than the usual. Crisp and funny dialogue keeps you engaged from beginning to end, and a particularly cool and ideosyncratic soundtrack alone is enjoyable. Don't miss it.

* "Juno," now showing at area theaters. Rated PG-13 for mature themes. Run time 96 minutes. Our score, 4-and-a-half stars out of five.